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Welfare Reform Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 13th May 2011|
Publications on the internet
Welfare Reform Bill
Welfare Reform Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Margaret Curran: I welcome you back, Mr Weir, to our deliberations. I will say no more than that as we both have other interests that perhaps we will discuss another time. I think that you will understand my reticence, and obviously others may, too. I thank you for allowing us the time to consider the amendment, and I welcome my colleagues across the floor to a consideration of the details.
Amendment 227 would oblige the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an independent report on the operation of personal independence payment assessments at least every two years for at least six years after the new gateway to PIP has been first implemented. Amendment 228 suggests that the first report should laid before Parliament within two rather than three years of assessment roll-out. The amendments are small but would go some way to help to improve the implementation process.
During our other sittings, we have spoken about the scale of change that we are about to embark upon and about the mammoth task that lies ahead, given the Government’s objective to re-assess every working-age disability living allowance claimant by 2015-16. That would involve reassessing l.8 million people in three years if the Government are on course to make the savings that they have laid out in the Budget book. I have asked the Minister how many people they expect to be assessed every year, but she was unable to provide
We have concerns that the basic planning is not at a stage where parliamentary questions can be answered. However, as I mentioned in a previous sitting, if we look at the most basic calculation of the figures that we have at hand and match that to the years, we can envisage a situation in which the Government have to re-assess 11,000 DLA claimants every week to meet the target.
Many questions and worries are now gathering pace that such a big-bang approach is perhaps not the best way to implement DLA reform. Leaving aside the principles of whether we agree with the reform, what should be included in the legislation and how we do it, there is a mechanical issue about how we go through the process. The amendments are designed to assist us in getting through the process, I hope, a bit more effectively.
The big-bang approach to DLA as a way to improve the system should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. Part of that commitment must be that, following the initial roll-out of the assessment, the Secretary of State will report to Parliament on the operation of the assessment every two years, rather than three. We are concerned about those initial years. I will talk about that later.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I understand the argument that is being made about practicality, but given the pace of change within public policy, does the hon. Lady not share my concern that, if recommendations are made as a result of one report, they will barely work through the system and be in operation before another report comes along? We may end up with independent reports that are severely caveated because previous recommendations made on a rolling basis have not had time to show through the system in a way that would make them statistically robust?
Margaret Curran: I thank the hon. Lady for that point. Of course, we need to look at those issues, but we are not actually at that stage. If we had a fully planned system and it was laid out that we should use some of the phases that we were going through, perhaps we would have be careful about how reports were interlaid with one another. Those engaged in the process are asking for how it will be implemented to be spelled out to Parliament.
Parliamentary scrutiny is important, and two years is a reasonable time frame in which to do that. If two years are not enough and we need three years to present the report, there could be 1.8 million cases in those three years and that raises a question about the whole process. If we cannot manage to produce a reasonable report within two years and three years are needed, fundamental questions need to be asked about whether we can manage the process at all.
Margaret Curran: Yes; yet again my hon. Friend makes an important point. There is currently a strong interest in this policy, and that is gathering pace. Within two years, there will be even greater interest in it as our constituents become more informed. The matter has not yet been taken up by the wider public, but it certainly will be and parliamentarians will need to take an even greater interest in the matter than they do now.
The legislation will go through the parliamentary process and the appropriate levers will be used to raise questions and voice concerns. The amendment would provide us with a more structured way to do that and make the system respond more effectively. In future, there will be pressure on the Government to respond to concerns about the implementation of the policy, and the amendment seeks to ensure that that is done in a structured and planned way. We do not yet have any evidence of such an approach, and that is what we need to consider.
As we said in earlier sittings when considering different areas of the Bill, there is a case for DLA reform, which is a natural step forward following the reform of incapacity benefit and the introduction of employment and support allowance. We must, however, ensure that we learn the lessons from some of the difficulties experienced during that reform. It is widely acknowledged that the national roll-out of the work capability assessment had a bumpy ride, and the Government should work to iron out any issues with the assessment, implement proposals following the Harrington review and apply the lessons in that context.
Ensuring that an independent report of the new assessment of PIP is published regularly every two years will send a number of important signals. First, it sends the signal that the Government recognise that things can go wrong during the implementation of a programme and that they are prepared to report, amend and adapt it, as we learn more about its operation. That would give parliamentarians across political boundaries and across the politics of the DLA—whether they support it or not—the opportunity to raise any concerns about how the programme was being implemented, and that would provide an important platform.
The Government could then show that they were making an effort to get the matter right. I sincerely believe that they must send out such a signal because at the moment, people in receipt of the benefit are not receiving that message. It would be useful to commit to a thorough and regular report into the assessment, because that would show that the Government want to work on the programme. It would not stop the Government from listening or prevent the ongoing consultation process. The implementation process is important, and the Government need to inform people about it. That conversation should take place at the Government’s highest levels and be subject to legislative scrutiny.
Amendment 228 calls for the initial report to be laid before Parliament within two years rather than three. The rationale behind that is encapsulated in my earlier
The Government should be proactive, send out the right signals and engage and listen to people’s views on the process of implementation, as well as the principles of reform. A more structured and planned approach is needed to what is an enormous change and, undoubtedly, a big-bang approach to welfare reform.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mr Weir. Amendments 227 and 228 call for reports on the operation of PIP to be laid before Parliament, but before I go into the detail, perhaps I could just clarify the situation because the hon. Member for Glasgow East pulled together a number of different issues.
Clause 86 is particularly about the report to be written after introduction. That is very important, but as the Committee has already had extensive debate, it is equally if not more important that the Government are undertaking a great deal of consultation, testing and work with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations throughout the benefit development process. Indeed, as the Committee knows, we already have an independent group establishing and scrutinising the assessment, and we have announced the other measures to ensure close working and testing in the implementation of the new measure. The written report is simply one element of a much broader scheme to ensure that learning from previous work that the Department has done on benefits is incorporated into the new measure, and that that is robustly tested throughout, with the full and active participation of disabled people.
I hope that I have reassured the hon. Lady that, rather than a sketchy framework for the way the new measure will be tested, a detailed and robust framework is already set out. The report is simply part of the much bigger architecture of the whole thing. I understand the point that she made; indeed, we have the shared objective of ensuring that an independent review of the assessment is undertaken and led by a senior figure with a strong background in disability. I am sure that the Committee agrees that such a review must be done properly, and we must make certain that it is undertaken at a time when it can provide the most accurate picture of how the assessment is operating. The assessment, therefore, must be given time to bed in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea’s intervention was right. She has been looking at Professor Harrington’s work on the work capability assessment and at how difficult it is, with an annual report, to ensure that each of them is as thorough and comprehensive as required. We must think about the practicalities of when information will be available and when it is most appropriate for reports to be made.
We looked very carefully at the timing of such a report; the hon. Member for Glasgow East is right that it must be done in a very timely manner. Looking at how the process will work, I am concerned that two years does not give enough time to carry out a review on the scale that both she and I feel is necessary for this
The hon. Lady mentioned that the reassessment of individuals under the new PIP scheme would take place over three years. It will take time for sufficient individuals to be in the system for us to assess its impact accurately and robustly. The implementation of the assessment will only begin after the successful passage of the regulations under the affirmative procedure, which can happen only some months after clause 78 comes into force. All that will take time, too.
Under the amendment, the review would realistically need to begin a year after the commencement of clause 78. My concern is that that will leave us little time to get sufficient data—which will be limited at that stage—to make the sort of impact that both the hon. Lady and I seek. We need to consider the practicalities of when data will be available and when it will be most fruitful to assess them in a report. It will not be possible to gain an accurate picture of how the assessment is operating after two years, because so few customers will have experienced it, owing to the phasing in of the regulations and the start of the reassessment.
We have a clear shared objective. The measure is shaped by practicalities. We believe that our approach to lay a report before Parliament within three years of the legislation’s commencement will enable a comprehensive review to be undertaken. A third year will allow the operation of the assessment to settle down and enable much more evidence to be gathered, as greater volumes of customers experience the process, before identifying any issue that needs to be resolved.
The assessment will operate in different ways for different people; we talked about that on Tuesday. The assessment system needs to work flexibly. We need to be flexible about where people might be assessed. All those things will take time to build up a body of evidence. More time will also provide greater opportunities for the independent reviewer to work with disabled people and disability organisations, so that their feedback and experience of the assessment can be properly reflected in the report. That will make the report more powerful and useful. Joint working will be integral to the review; it is essential that it is given adequate time. We have learned from the WCA experience, and we want to ensure that this part of the review process is built in from the start. I understand that was not the case with WCA; the reviews now being undertaken by Professor Harrington were added later. We have learned from that and ensured that they are built in from the start.
The hon. Lady has also called for such reviews to be carried out at least every two years for at least the first six years following the coming into force of the legislation. We fully recognise the need to ensure that the new benefit is operating properly, but we do not feel that approach would be the best way to achieve that. We believe that it would be more useful to carry out a single full review of PIP, to have an holistic view of how it is operating. That also came through in our earlier debates.
The Committee may note that it has been necessary to limit the scope of the first two independent WCA reviews undertaken by Professor Harrington, owing to
I hope that the hon. Lady is assured by my comments and by the fact that the review will not be the sole means by which we evaluate and improve the operation of the new assessment. After implementation, we will continually carry out internal evaluation to monitor performance, as I am sure she would expect. The assessment will be a living tool, by which we will review and revise in line with the experiences and expectations of ourselves and of the people who are in receipt of PIP.
Given that explanation and the fact that this element of the Bill draws heavily on the experience that we have gained from the practical running of the work capability risk assessment, I hope that hon. Lady feels reassured that we have similar objectives. The sort of time scale that I am talking about is more likely to achieve her objective, which is to ensure full scrutiny of the measure and that disabled people and disabled people’s organisations can play a real and important part. Given all that, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Margaret Curran: There is a strong contradiction in what the Government say. The Minister’s argument is deeply concerning. In fact, I am more concerned about it now that I was before. Essentially, she is saying that two years is not enough time to reassess and consider the process properly, so we have to extend it to three years. Three years, however, is exactly the same time that she is giving to the entire process for 1.8 million people. If two years is not enough time to reassess, we will go to three years. However, she is also saying that three years is enough time to conduct the entire process. That is not a consistent argument and there are real worries about how this has been undertaken. I do not think that the Minister is grasping the scale of the big-bang approach.
Maria Miller: I apologise to the hon. Lady if I did not explain myself well. The written report is only one part of a much more comprehensive analysis of how the new system, operational processes and assessment work. I can assure her that we will not wait until three years after the scheme’s implementation to make changes. As I have said from the start, we will do that iteratively because we want to ensure as soon as we can that the system is right.
Margaret Curran: I thank the Minister for that explanation. I understand that point, but I have a number of arguments to make. First, Parliament needs the opportunity properly to scrutinise the measure. I am sure that there will be other processes of assessment and engagement and other mechanisms to consider how it is implemented. Presumably, we will not have to wait three years until concerns are addressed. I absolutely accept that point.
Presumably, the Minister would say that Parliament has other means by which it can question and hold the Government to account. Of course it does—parliamentary
I am asking the Minister whether she has thought about the 1.8 million people and how the system will be organised, and she is saying, “We are still considering the Bill. We do not have answers to that.” That is not adequate. Parliamentarians will use all those mechanisms, but they are not quite enough given the scale of the proposed reform. Parliament and the people whom we represent would expect us to take a particularly focused look at this reform, and the amendment would give us the opportunity to do that.
The Minister has placed great emphasis on the argument that we are engaged with other mechanisms, reports, disability organisations and disabled people and can discuss how the process should be undertaken. She says that she is producing a detailed and robust framework, but we have no evidence of that. She will know that grave concerns about the framework and the approach that is being taken are being expressed by not only the Opposition, but the organisations that she has quoted. She said that a great deal of consultation and testing is under way, but that is not my view; there is no evidence to support that.
We have already heard fundamental criticisms about the way in which the consultation was undertaken. There are debates about the testing. Many people say that the Government are steaming ahead without thinking anything through and without pacing the changes. We have fundamental concerns, so we are not persuaded by their arguments.
Maria Miller: Obviously, the hon. Lady will be aware of the fact that we had some 5,500 responses to our consultation. I have said that we will thoroughly test our new assessment process on many hundreds of people over the summer. I believe that I am right in saying that we are actually further forward with the drafting of regulations for PIP than the previous Administration were at the same point in the WCA deliberations. The hon. Lady is perhaps labouring the point a little more than may be necessary.
Margaret Curran: I genuinely hope that I am wrong because, whether or not the Minister agrees, if the reform goes ahead and affects so many people of such great vulnerability, it must be as effective as possible. I am not making this argument for the sake of it; I genuinely believe that there are real concerns. Five thousand people contributed to the consultation—we did not have enough time for me to argue about some of the details, but I will not go into that just now—but there were more than 5,000 people on the embankment yesterday who were saying that the Government are fundamentally wrong.
The Government are closing their ears to real, solid evidence about the implementation of the measures. Talking to lots of people who say that it is okay should not be reassuring, because many people are genuinely saying that it is not. Some people are arguing about the principles, and others, because they are worried, are arguing about the costings. I accept both those views,
Maria Miller: Could the hon. Lady explain what she means by “more structured and planned”? I am not entirely clear which issues have not been structured and planned. We have set them out quite clearly in our policy papers and in the debate so far, and I am not quite following her argument.
Margaret Curran: Evidence from the past few days has proven that the approach is not structured and planned. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham was making strong arguments about why a pilot would be more effective and why the big-bang approach is not appropriate. We have voted on that—I accept that—but there are substantial arguments none the less. I will argue about some of that in my later amendments, but the fundamental argument for saying that the Government’s policy is not structured or planned is that they plan to reassess 1.8 million people over three years. As I have said several times—the Minister has never challenged my figures—that means 11,000-plus people being assessed every week. That means 2,500 people being assessed every day. It is reasonable for people in my position to ask what the plans are. Has the number of people who will be reassessed every year been thought through? The Minister has not, as yet, provided an answer. If there is no answer about a planned, managed approach, it is reasonable for people to ask questions.
Maria Miller: The hon. Lady will be aware of the fact that we are discussing the broad concepts and that the details will be set out in regulations in the proper and usual way. I hope that she is not asserting that the Government would proceed without having thought about any such issue. I am sure that she is not saying that. I can assure her that such things are usually dealt with in regulations.
Margaret Curran: The Minister makes my argument for me. Whenever I ask about detail, she says, “You can’t imply that I cannot answer.” When I ask for the detail, she says, “This is about broad concepts.” She cannot have it both ways. I will ask specific questions later on, and from what she has outlined, answers can be given. I am concerned that, on 9 May, I received a response to a straightforward question about how many people the Government intend to assess in a year and what the target was, but it cannot be answered. I am sure that her reply would be, “We’re talking about the bookcase. We’re talking about the broad concepts. We can’t answer to that level of detail, but don’t worry, we’re thinking about it.”
I am telling the Minister—I can reasonably say this on behalf a large number of people who are on the receiving end of the process—that there is a real frustration with the Government’s attitude, because of the scale of the reform, because of the number of people involved and because of their experiences. They are among the most sick and disabled people in this country.
The Government are visiting this reform on such people, so it is incumbent on Ministers to explain the likely processes. I understand that we cannot get every dot and comma and that the Government cannot say that Mrs A will end up getting reassessed on 24 April 2014 and give the detail of everything involved in the process. However, it is reasonable for 1.8 million people—the most sick and disabled people—to ask what the plans and estimates are.
I used the mechanisms open to me as an MP and asked a parliamentary question, but the Government cannot answer. That goes to the heart of the proposal’s management. This minor amendment suggests different ways of looking at things to find opportunities to manage the situation more effectively.
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that we are discussing a very different Government? Rather than sitting in Westminster and dictating to the country how things should be done, they are engaged in an iterative process, with actual people whom the policy seeks to support and help and with the organisations representing them. In such an iterative process, as part of the conversation or dialogue, the Government are clearly saying, “Help us to get this right.”
Margaret Curran: Well, we shall wait and see, believe me. A number of people were demonstrating yesterday, and there has been great publicity. The hon. Lady should go to the organisations, and I do not think that they would endorse her view.
Sarah Newton: I am very involved with the organisations in my constituency and with people with disabilities. I am sure all hon. Members are, certainly in Committee, because we would not be serving in it if we did not have a deep and long-standing interest in the benefit of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Margaret Curran: I entirely respect that. I have no reason or wish to question the hon. Lady’s commitment or her experience or knowledge of organisations in her own field—absolutely not—and I was not implying that. However, if we have such ringing endorsements of the Government’s approach, can the Government Members bring evidence to the Committee of such endorsements and of how impressed the organisations are with the Government approach and, in particular, with the details? If the hon. Lady were to produce that evidence, I would be more than happy to listen to it.
Sarah Newton: I do not want to detain the Committee any longer, but when I sit in the sitting rooms of disabled people in my constituency, they are extremely worried, as the hon. Lady says. However, I also find that
Margaret Curran: I would be fascinated by such evidence as well but, genuinely, that is not my experience. The representative organisations are saying that there are concerns that must be addressed. If the Government Members have contrary evidence, let us look at it, instead of going only on individual, anecdotal experience. We ought to be able to look at the cumulative evidence and say, “When people are reassured about this benefit, they are really up for it,” but I have not come across such evidence and would be interested to see it. I would not say that this is the best example of the Government communicating a reform and so winning support for it.
I was about to say that I would not press the amendment to a vote—perhaps Government Members want me to, so they can give it an endorsement—but I want to put it on the record that I am not persuaded by the Government’s approach. I did not mean the debate to be ideological, on the rights and wrongs of the amendment. This is a practical amendment about how we look at the mechanics of this. However, we will be discussing that more later this morning, under other amendments.
Charlie Elphicke: The amendment is in effect to have more independent reports, not three years after but two years, but it does not achieve what she wants or what her speech was about. Another just concern is that the process should be iterative and engaged. If the Secretary of State disappeared for two years and just produced a report after implementing the system, I would be very alarmed, as I think we all would be. Surely there should be an ongoing discussion about how to get the reform right throughout the whole process.
Margaret Curran: I do not for a minute suggest that this is the only process that can be undertaken. Those engaged in an iterative process would also want Parliament to do its job. This is about Parliament having a formal process of reporting and consultation. It is for us, as the authors of the legislation, to ensure that the measure is being implemented properly. The amendment would not prohibit any other discussions. My earlier point to the Minister was not that the other processes do not matter; it was that the other processes are not being done properly.
Maria Miller: I am sorry to intervene on the hon. Lady again. She clearly feels very strongly about the issue. What is her response to the problem that has been identified by many, not only Ministers, that the first two independent reviews of the WCA undertaken by Professor Harrington have been limited in scope because of the short time frames? Does she not expect the Government to take that into account when they are looking at the future? She is clearly urging us not to take that into account.
Margaret Curran: I urge the Minister that the best way to take into account that experience is to consider the three-year time frame for the 1.8 million people who will be re-assessed. She is saying that two years is not
Charlie Elphicke: I put it to the hon. Lady that the best form of parliamentary scrutiny is the scrutiny that has been done already through the Select Committee on Work and Pensions evidence sessions, by Opposition day debates, by announcements and statements from the Ministers, by debates proposed by the Government in Government time and by Westminster Hall debates. The matter should be dealt with through that process. In many ways, I do not like the clause because it almost pushes things in the other direction, although I could live with the measure because it does not detract from anything. The amendment does not help either. I would much rather ensure that we have a proper and democratic process all the way through, so that we can look at all of the issues properly and get the reform right.
Margaret Curran: Surely the hon. Gentleman is not seriously suggesting that I am saying we should only have an independent report and those other parliamentary mechanisms should not apply. I do not think he really believes that that is what I am arguing. He knows full well that my argument is also based on the full operation of those opportunities. It is not a case of a Select Committee report versus an independent report; I am talking about having an add-on to that and another mechanism. The scale, pace and impact of the reform and the interest in it means that we need to have another report. The hon. Gentleman has contradicted what the Minister has said about learning from the Harrington model being applied here. He is suggesting that that is completely irrelevant. There is a basic contradiction that goes to heart of my concerns.
The hon. Gentleman has not truly grasped the scale of the reform. The system is so different that we need to look at different approaches. That is the core of my argument. I am surprised that people feel so strongly about whether a report should be made in three years or two years but perhaps not about other issues, and that they do not have the energy and animation about the assessment process itself. None the less, I am sure that we will return to these arguments at another stage of the Bill’s consideration. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Good morning, Mr Weir. The amendment relates to the position of children under the age of 16 and the reforms to disability living allowance. I am well aware, as are all hon. Members, that the Government have made it clear that they expect not to introduce the personal independence payment for children under the age of 16 at the same time as the changes come in for adults.
I understand that Ministers expect and intend in due course at least to consider the operation and extension of the personal independence payment to children. If that is the longer-term expectation, it is vital that the Bill contains safeguards to ensure that the system that is created will be fit for purpose and flexible enough to meet the different needs of disabled children.
I, other hon. Members and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign are concerned about the lack of clarity in the Bill over what the impact on disabled children will be. Clause 87 repeals clauses 71 to 76 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, and in doing so, it removes the legislation that currently provides the extra benefit of disability living allowance for disabled children. We are in a gap, and although we are happy to accept Ministers’ assurances that they do not immediately intend to transfer children to the personal independence payment, as far as we can tell, if and when that happened, the Bill would be the only legislation in existence to govern how that would take place and how those children would be treated. It is, therefore, important that we debate what that would mean for disabled children and their families.
Currently, 330,000 children under the age of 16 receive disability living allowance. DLA is a vital income top-up for families with disabled children, and the circumstances of each child who qualifies for DLA can be very varied. Some children might have a long-term, steady-state impairment, perhaps from birth, which will not change. Some may have a short-term, complex health need that will require a high level of family support for a shorter period of time. Some will have intermittent conditions, as a result of which there will be times when they need extra support and times when their condition is more stable. As we have said in the context of the benefit for adults, there are clearly issues about the variability of requirement for financial support for disabled children, but in all those scenarios it is an absolute lifeline that enables families to meet the unavoidable extra costs of care when the household includes a disabled child or children. A remarkable number of families contain more than one disabled child who is receipt in of DLA, and that benefit is a lifeline that allows families to care for their children and to enable them to live ordinary lives.
The money that those families receive goes to meet a significant range of substantial additional costs. Such families may face additional child care costs, either because a specialist child carer is need for the disabled child or children and/or because parents, in having to devote more of their time to caring for the disabled child, need to pay for child care for other siblings in the family. Child care costs often mount up. Special equipment may be needed for the disabled child, and perhaps special travel arrangements.
In many families with a disabled child in the household, at least one parent will be forced either to give up work entirely or to reduce their working hours, so DLA can help to replace a loss of parental earnings to some degree, albeit it is not a replacement benefit, but in terms of the family budget parents certainly look at it in that way. Additional costs may be involved in protecting and keeping profoundly disabled children safe. Adaptations to the home may be required, and extra supervision costs may arise from the need to supervise those children more closely when they are outside the home environment.
Families may incur costs for things such as heating, clothing and special diets, and a significant number of families report that they use some of their DLA to meet extra costs to support their children’s education and learning. Even in special schools, the facilities and the resources are not always available to support disabled children properly to maximise their learning and education. Schools can be quite poor at identifying the needs of disabled children, so parents use DLA to support their children’s educational development.
The existing DLA system has been designed to meet the different needs of disabled children and adults. In other words, it recognises that there are different kinds of needs that particularly arise for children under 16. For example, they receive the care component of DLA for 56 days longer than adults, in recognition of the additional input from families that disabled children require when they are settling into a new environment away from home. There are also different tests for eligibility, in recognition of the different levels of support that disabled children may need. In 2006, when a series of informal parliamentary hearings on services for disabled children took place, Parliament recognised the need for the system to vary to meet the needs of disabled children. The hearings recommended that Government should consider waiving the 90-day eligibility period for children who have additional time-limited care or mobility needs as a result of medical intervention. The hearings did not recommend what we are now getting: the risk that children, too, could have to wait six months to become eligible. That is a very long time in a young child’s life. It can be period of immense development or the retarding thereof in a child’s early years. There is a particular concern, therefore, about the application of the PIP structure to that situation.
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and for raising this debate on a fascinating area. Would she support work that she and I could perhaps do on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions to recommend that we take forward some of the issues she has raised? It is very difficult for families with disabled children to go through the transition period into the adult social care system. It would be a major piece of work for us, and I wonder if she would support it.
Kate Green: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I certainly would support it. I have some amendments to table later today in relation to the transition period which, as she rightly says, is a particular and different difficulty that families with disabled children face. I am sure we all have constituents who have brought to us instances of that particular challenge. From my own experience, I know how difficult it can be to get that transition right. It is a time when families feel that they have fallen down the hole. So I welcome my Select Committee colleague’s support for a proper, full analysis of those issues. Perhaps together we could discuss that with the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who I think would be very sympathetic to the proposition that it should be
There is a concern that, with Ministers focusing their attention on the migration of disabled adults from DLA to personal independence payment, and the considerable work—which all Opposition Members accept is being undertaken by Ministers and Department officials—to design and get right the implementation of that transition for working-age adults, there will not be any thinking time at this stage in the process for the Department to develop the design of PIP in a way that meets the needs of disabled children. There is also a lack of flexibility in the Bill to ensure that that development can take place at a later stage, when Ministers make the decision to migrate children across. Therefore, quite unintentionally, we could find ourselves, two or three or five or six years down the line, with a system that is not fit for purpose for disabled children. While I am sure that, if that turned out to be case, any Government would want to go back and revisit the legislation and make amendments where appropriate, it would be better not to get into that situation and to make it clear that the Bill is specifically aimed at adults and is not necessarily the right framework for supporting the extra cost of disability for children under the age of 16. I hope the Minister can tell us whether there is a timetable for the migration of children from DLA to PIP. I also hope she can reassure us there will be full flexibility and tell us how that is reflected in the Bill, so that if and when children move on to PIP, we can be confident that the system can be adapted to meet the very specific needs of disabled children and their families.
Maria Miller: Perhaps I could start by providing a great deal of assurance and clarity here. I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for raising the issue because it is important. We deliberately did not include children or individuals under the age of 16 in these initial provisions because they provide a different set of challenges in terms of the support they require. For all the reasons she gave, a separate set of deliberations is required. It is clearly and deliberately set out in the Bill that we will be able to accommodate a bespoke approach to children in PIP, in terms of both assessment and the operation of the benefit.
I welcome the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire that this could be something on which the Select Committee could provide some extremely useful thinking and evidence. The Government have not yet set out a timetable for this. We want to learn from the implementation of PIP for working-age individuals before we proceed with any such ideas for children.
The Department for Education is also doing some important work here in its special educational needs Green Paper. I have been actively working with the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) to ensure that we have a joined-up approach when it comes to children. When I meet parents they express their real concerns about the assessment and its impact
Harriett Baldwin: I thank the Minister for supporting my suggestion. Obviously, more and more children with severe disabilities are living much longer than they might have done 20 years ago. Does the Department have any data on how often that life extension takes place and on the number of children with severe disabilities who move on to adult social care?
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I do not have those figures at my fingertips, but I can certainly write to her on that. She raises an important point. I met a group of parents last Friday at Limington House, an excellent school that I am fortunate to have in my constituency. It provides superb care for children who face some of the biggest challenges. That very point was brought up by those parents. Their children are enjoying a longer life expectancy and we need to ensure that the support is there. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that, as part of the work I am doing elsewhere as a Minister, I have announced that we will provide some £3 million to help user-led organisations support such parents, to ensure that they get the sort of help and support that they need through what can be very challenging times.
The provisions do not limit our approach on children, and changes in respect of children would clearly be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. We have clearly stated that there will be public consultation. I understand that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston has been discussing the issues with organisations such as Every Disabled Child Matters, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank that body for its important work. I hope that I will be able to meet it to discuss its particular concerns further.
As we made clear on Second Reading, it is not our intention to address the issue of children within DLA at this point. We will do that later, after we have been able to build on our experience from the implementation of PIP for adults. There are very clear provisions in the Bill for us to do what we need to do to ensure that both the assessment and the operation of PIP is appropriate for children. We have very clearly built that into the Bill. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Lady with those comments that we will not be hamstrung in the approach we take.
Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): This is the first Public Bill Committee I have been on, and I am certainly no expert on legislation. Can the Minister explain the application of DLA to children under the Bill? What legislative framework will sit underneath it? I think that is the point of the amendment. In the interim, until the new arrangements are in place for children, what is the underpinning legislation?
Maria Miller: The provisions in the Bill mean that we will not abolish DLA until every single person has been reassessed and is no longer in receipt of DLA. DLA would remain in existence to support children under the age of 16 until a new benefit was put in place to support them.
Ian Swales: To be clear—I think this is relevant to adults, too—are we saying that the way the Bill works is that people remain on DLA until they are assessed for PIP, and that that applies to everyone?
Maria Miller: Yes. That is why we believe that it is most appropriate for DLA to continue to support those who are not part of the current re-assessment process. When individuals, particularly children, are being considered and an appropriate assessment process is in place, we would introduce the necessary regulations to abolish DLA. That is how the process works, and I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to clarify that.
Ian Swales: May I make one final point? This issue has become clearer to me in the past few minutes, and I think that it needs to be shouted more loudly, in order to communicate the effects of the Bill to the public. I think that that will reduce some of the fears that we hear from our constituents.
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point as well. He is right to say that, as with everything to do with Government legislation, it takes time for people to be able to understand what is intended, though I hope that no one would think that the Government would ever intend to remove a benefit before they had put something proper in its place. I am sure he was not intending to imply that. The clause would be the subject of transitional protections to ensure that the benefit was closed down only when all DLA claimants had moved on to the PIP, and there is no time by which the DLA provisions must have been repealed. They are there until that has happened, so that can be done when the entire case load moves over to PIP. It is important that people are clear on that, and this debate has given us the opportunity to be clear.
We want to build on the experience of developing assessment and applying it to the new and existing claimants of working-age DLA to inform the future arrangements for children. We will consider the effectiveness of those arrangements before considering an extension of PIP to new claims from children, or to children already in receipt of DLA. Furthermore, we are committed to consulting on arrangements for children, and regulations on the issue will be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses. We take the situation very seriously.
Sarah Newton: Like a lot of Members, I am reassured that the Minister has sent out a very clear message to people with children about the Government’s intentions. I was particularly pleased to hear what she said about consulting with organisations to ensure that we get this right, in the right period of time. Will the Minister please elaborate on the types of organisations, and on that consultation?
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I know that she is doing a great deal of work in her constituency to ensure that she provides the clarity that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar mentioned. It is by talking to local community organisations that hon. Members can understand some of the realities
The Government’s approach to looking at the support needs of children currently in receipt of DLA, and how we might develop and replace that in the future as part of the PIP process, will be very well informed by the Green Paper that the Minister with responsibility for families, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), is undertaking. That Green Paper consultation is focusing on the issue of assessment and statementing, and will draw a wide range of organisations into the consultation process. I see that as a starting point for our deliberations about PIP, because I want to look at ways in which we can simplify the assessment for children and parents wherever possible. It is right that we make it as easy as possible, not only for children, but for parents. They have many different demands—family and work—so we must make the process as straightforward as possible. From that point on we will look to broaden our discussions to other relevant organisations, and also talk directly with families and children. By having that broad consultation from the start we can make sure that we move forward in as robust and right a way as possible. It is important that we have had a chance to air that, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue.
Before I close, I would like to say a few words about transition, which the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston picked up on earlier, although there will be relevant amendments later in our considerations. Under schedule 10, we have asked for powers that will allow us to put in place transitional measures for the introduction of PIP. The flexibility that the powers will give us will ensure a smooth transition for children on to PIP when they reach 16. For example, time spent in receipt of DLA could be used towards fulfilling the PIP qualifying period—another thing that the hon. Lady picked up earlier.
Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Lady for raising that; it absolutely would be the case for adults. I was not implying that the situation might be different in any way for adults; I was rather making sure that it is clear for children.
Clause 87 does not provide for the immediate abolition of DLA, but allows the Government to bring the benefit to an end when the entire case load moves over to PIP. It is our view that the Bill provides the most appropriate legislative opportunity to take those powers, and I hope that my comments reassure the hon. Lady that the DLA provisions will not be repealed until arrangements for children have been consulted on, scrutinised and fully implemented. I hope that she will consider withdrawing her amendment.
Kate Green: I am grateful to the Minister for a full, encouraging response. Members of all parties are concerned about the issue, and again, I particularly thank the hon. Member for West Worcestershire for her suggestion that we on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions should keep it under appropriate scrutiny.
I am pleased to hear the Minister’s comments on the consultation process. It is good to hear the process described so fully, so that people are clear on the many opportunities that there will be to help shape the way in which PIP will be introduced for children under the age of 16. I do not presume to speak for Every Disabled Child Matters, but I welcome the Minister’s offer to meet it. I hope and expect that it will want to take her up on that, because I know that it will be able to speak informatively on the issues faced by disabled children and their families. The changes that will be introduced in due course will be improved by early and continuing discussions with Every Disabled Child Matters and other organisations working with disabled children.
I strongly welcome the conversations that the Minister is having with her colleagues in the Department for Education. She puts her finger on one of the issues about which many families are concerned: the repeated assessments that children have to undergo and the strain and distress that that can cause for children and their families. Parents have reported to me their concern that some of the assessments made of children in educational or social care settings are not particularly well carried out or effective. Any pressure that the Minister and her colleagues in the Department can apply to colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure a high-quality assessment that genuinely assesses and understands all the needs of children in a holistic way would be very much appreciated by families. Such an assessment would also improve the way in which the financial support provided by the Department for Work and Pensions is tailored and targeted to meet need.
The hon. Member for Redcar helpfully opened up the discussion on our exact concerns about the legislation. I understand the Minister’s point that nobody will be left without any money at all. There will not be a moment when people are eligible for neither DLA nor PIP, having not yet been transferred across when the new payment product comes in. My concern is that the Bill could be the only legislative framework for children in receipt of PIP at the point when they get to it. The Bill has been designed with adult recipients in mind, not because Ministers are not well aware that children have different issues—the Minister is open in recognising that there are differences in the way in which a benefit for children would be designed, and she recognises some of the variants between the needs of adults and children—but because, inevitably, the focus at the moment is on designing the transition for working-age adults. I am concerned to ensure that we do not end up with a Bill that is too inflexible to meet the potentially different needs of disabled children. The Bill does not currently focus on them.
We received some helpful reassurances from the Minister this morning. I am particularly glad to hear that the matter is high on her list of things to be aware of and concerned about. I am also pleased to hear about her cool approach to the consultation that she plans to hold before bringing in any changes that will affect disabled children and their families. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(3) The Secretary of State shall not transfer any existing recipients of disability living allowance to personal independence payment, including under sub-paragraph (1), until he has—
(a) published a report about the operation of the personal independence payment application and assessment process for new claimants; and
(b) conducted and responded to a consultation about the process that will be used to transfer existing disability living allowance recipients to personal independence payment.’.
The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State does not transfer existing DLA recipients to the new PIP until a report on the operation of PIP and an assessment of new claimants is published, and a full consultation has been conducted on the process of transferring DLA recipients to PIP. Many of the points have been made, and we may want to rehearse them, but I want to focus on the mechanics of the reform, and how it will be implemented.
Again, I emphasise the scale of the proposal— 1.8 million people will be affected over three years—and the need for a planned, structured approach. Clearly, some people believe that it is reasonable and doable, but we must test that and extrapolate some of the issues, which is what people expect us to do. It is worth repeating that 600,000 people per annum—11,500 a week, or 2,300 a day—will be involved, and that is a big process. It is a monumental exercise, and will presumably be led by DWP, which is introducing a raft of other measures that will work alongside that and affect many of the same people.
In other parts of the Bill, particularly those relating to the introduction of universal credit, we have discussed the scale of the change that is being introduced and the organisational challenges. We are introducing yet another huge change in the same Department, and there will be an overlap of people. The scale of the change being introduced across the welfare system is enormous, and there are many questions, such whether the plans are realistic, and what approach can be used to ensure that they work effectively. Those are legitimate questions. We know from earlier debates that many significant issues must be resolved.
My argument is that the Bill as drafted is not yet complete, in light of those questions. There are still issues about carers. We have had some answers, but others remain outstanding. We have discussed people living in residential homes, and that discussion will continue. We have not received clarity on aids and adaptations. There are many concerns about the impact of the legislation, and substantial policy issues to be resolved. If we go full steam ahead and begin the assessment process for 2,500 people every day, we must ensure that the process is undertaken clearly and coherently. The amendment introduces that debate, so let us have it here.
I emphasise my earlier points about the scale and pace of the reform. I understand the Minister’s argument, and her colleague’s argument about the bookcase and the details of what is in the bookcase, but there is a
Given the scale of the reassessment and the demography of those to be reassessed, it is important at this stage of the legislation to go the extra distance and reassure those who are so worried about the change, and how it will happen. We must consider a rational and structured approach. The amendment would send out a message that we will learn from mistakes in the system, because mistakes will happen. There will be hiccups in the system, and we need opportunities to iron them out. It is worth saying that now, rather than letting them happen and just using the same old processes.
The amendment is fair and proportionate. Again, we are not arguing about the principle. We are not saying, “We’re not going back to that territory,” but we are saying, “Let’s look at what is being done here.” Paragraph (a) would assure that a structured approach to reassessment is sought, while paragraph (b) would set out, in legislation, the Government’s willingness to continue the dialogue with those affected by the reform. It would ensure that that consultation and engagement is continued, and perhaps enhanced.
The Government are well aware of some issues that I have raised on DLA reform. There are gaps, and the proposals fall short of justified expectations about consultation, on which there are ongoing concerns. However, if we committed ourselves to a separate consultation into the operation of the assessment as it is being rolled out, which is essentially what the amendment proposes, it would put a further level of checks and balances into the assessment’s framework. That is seriously worth considering, and it would give confidence to those who are on the receiving end. We really should begin to think through the big-bang approach.
Will the Minister respond and explain some of the mechanics of how the assessment process will take place? I have a few more questions, which will give the Minister some idea of the detail that we need. Have staff been trained for the assessment process, and are plans for that under way? Are there management plans about how the assessment is to be enacted? Relating slightly to the points I made earlier, are time scales and targets established at this time? If they are not, when will they be, and how will Parliament be engaged on those?
Have we decided who will be assessed first? What are the details for the rolling programme of assessment? Will who is programmed within that be arbitrary, or will it be geographical? How is it to be determined? Will we have standards, even if there is no detail, about the principles of the assessment process? Would that be spelled out in guidance and regulations, so that we get some sense of how this will be conducted? For example, how much notice will existing DLA claimants get before they are reassessed? In our earlier debate, I think that we began to get a feel for some of the concerns about that matter.
What about new applicants? From 2013-14, are new applicants expected just to join the queue along with the 1.8 million people that I mentioned earlier? How are
Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East for raising those issues, and I will attempt to respond to them. However, I will preface the discussion by saying that we are talking about the architecture of the introduction of the new personal independence payment. Some questions in the latter part of her comments were rather detailed, and I can assure her that the people who work with me on this project are very busy answering exactly the questions that she asked, although I am not sure that it is possible to make them part of my response today. As and when we move forward, however, I absolutely undertake to keep disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and other Members of Parliament very well informed about the progress that we are making. That returns to a point about communication that was made on Tuesday, because we want communication to be very clear to everybody involved about when issues, such as those raised by the hon. Lady, will be finalised, and about the exact details of these important migration plans.
The amendment seeks further assurances that we have clear plans in place to ensure the success of the new personal independence payment. The hon. Lady also wants to ensure that disabled people and their organisations rightly have an opportunity to review and feed into the operational design of PIP and the migration process itself. I can assure her that that will not only be the case in future, but is the case here and now. We have already worked with disabled people and their organisations throughout the development of PIP, and, as I said earlier, we produced initial draft regulations on it much earlier in the parliamentary process than was the case for the work capability assessment under the previous Government. A clear lesson from some of the problems that we inherited with the WCA is that if people had been involved in the scrutiny of the regulations earlier, it could have been beneficial all round. I can assure her that that active commitment will continue.
The hon. Lady suggested that the migration process should be thoroughly tested before it is applied across the country, and she is right. As she will know from our discussions on piloting versus testing, we can evaluate our processes very thoroughly through the testing process that we advocate. We are considering different approaches to migration and how we can manage the risks with such large exercises. As she points out, we are dealing with large numbers, but, as she will understand, the experience of the Department in doing that is greatly enhanced by the work happening now on incapacity benefit as well.
We are considering beginning the migration exercise with a statistically valid sample of cases, perhaps in dedicated locations. If we were to take that approach, it would allow us to test and review our processes, the effectiveness of our communications, the customer experience and so on, before beginning the full migration process. That is at the heart of the hon. Lady’s careful and clear questioning—that people are aware of exactly what will happen and what the implications of it will be.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, or perhaps it was the hon. Member for Glasgow East, mentioned take-up and ensuring that we are fully aware of issues around that. That is just the sort of thing that our approach will pick up. I will be happy to discuss any available information from that sample with hon. Members and others, to ensure that we reassure people that our intentions will be met through the approach that we are taking. In addition, we will also set up customer research panels to advise us on the design of the operational process. They will be made up of groups of disabled people with shared characteristics, for example those who have never claimed DLA or those who have had a DLA award before. We intend to ask them to review the end-to-end process of PIP by experiencing it in a simulated environment.
The research techniques we are using will provide first-class research into the impact of our approach and will, I believe, provide us with an ability to change the assessment process as required so that it meets the policy intentions we are discussing on this Bill. That is just one example of our approach to continuing to involve disabled people in the testing process. I hope that Committee members can hear that the Department is taking an extremely robust approach to testing. We are not taking it lightly or undertaking it in an unstructured way, but with great seriousness, and we are applying a great deal of resource to underpin it as well.
By the time we come to the implementation of PIP, the Department will have had considerable experience in migrating individuals to new benefits. We will draw on our experience with incapacity benefit in this area as well. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow East and other Committee members; we are absolutely committed to ensuring that we get these processes right. We will use different ways of assessing and testing our new policies and will not always simply look at old and tried and trusted methodologies, such as piloting and geography, and it is right to do so. I think that Members would expect us to be innovative in our approach.
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